West Virginia was forged in the fire of the U.S. Civil War, when it separated from the Confederate state of Virginia and joined the Union. You can find out more about Civil War days at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which actually straddles West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Perhaps best known for the largest Union surrender of the war, Harpers Ferry—as the location of a large arsenal—also played a role in many other historic events. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both dropped by, Meriwether Lewis got arms for his expedition here, and in 1859 abolitionist John Brown tried to take possession of the armory to equip an army of rebelling slaves.
The Shenandoah River, which flows through Harpers Ferry, is one of West Virginia's many whitewater rafting spots. It offers a number of areas suitable for beginners, but the New River and the Gauley River are well known for their challenging rapids.
Spa lovers should head to White Sulphur Springs, where people have been to "take the waters" since 1778. The most famous resort in West Virginia, the Greenbrier, is located here; its luxury facilities include three golf courses, a spa and noted restaurants. In a quirky historical footnote, during the Cold War the U.S. Congress built a secret bunker under the hotel, where the legislative branch of Congress would reconvene if forced to flee Washington. The bunker finally closed in 1995.
Families may enjoy the Lost World Caverns in Lewisburg, with their stalagmites and stalactites (the latter include the Snowy Chandelier, an enormous white calcite formation). You can also visit the science centre at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. And in the summer months, you can climb aboard a restored steam train for a memorable trip at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.